Gene Powell, vice chairman of the University of Texas System Board of Regents, teared up Thursday as the board voted to approve funding from the system’s Permanent University Fund for the first time for construction at the new university in South Texas.
“The real emotional part is that I believe this is the biggest game-changer that ever happened there,” Powell, a South Texas native, said to reporters following the unanimous vote.
He said providing quality education has historically been a struggle in South Texas, and the new university changes that dramatically.
“Today, we’re going to be able to offer one of the best universities in America and a medical school,” Powell said.
The Permanent University Fund, which is managed by the state and goes to universities in the UT and Texas A&M University systems, had previously been off-limits to UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American because they joined the UT System as existing universities. The new university, which combines the two schools with a new medical school and expects to take its first class in the fall of 2015, will be able to draw from the fund.
The Board of Regents approved a total of $196 million for the campus to fund four initiatives. A new science building in Hidalgo County on the current UT-Pan American campus will be built with $70 million dollars. Capital improvement projects at the Cameron County campus of the new university will receive $54 million. Another $54 million will be used for the South Texas Medical Academic Building in Edinburg. And $18 million will be used to acquire facilities from Texas Southmost College, which is ending its long relationship with UT Brownsville.
The board also gave new authority to Texas Southmost College’s board to hire personnel and approve overall policy changes at the school, allowing it to begin operating more independently. UT-Brownsville President Juliet Garcia said at Thursday’s meeting that Texas Southmost College hopes to achieve independent accreditation by December 2014 at the latest. UT's new South Texas university cannot open until the college is accredited separately.
Garcia said the UT System is doing everything it can to move independence of the college along so that the new South Texas university can open on schedule.
Garcia said the Board of Regents’ actions Thursday reaffirm support for the educational initiatives in South Texas.
“It’s a clear statement on the part of the Board of Regents that it is their intention to nurture and grow and expand this new university in South Texas,” Garcia said. “It can’t any clearer than that.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified UT-Pan American as UT-Permian Basin.